Late Bloomer Jeff Petry Develops into NHL Star


“Jeff Petry” by NHL is licensed under CC BY 3.0 

Jeff Petry is living proof that you don’t need to specialize in a sport at a young age, or even be playing for a travel team in that sport from your early years of competition in order to become an elite-level athlete in that sport. 

Well into his teens, Petry was still playing high school hockey in his native Michigan. Due to his background – his father Dan Petry was a major league pitcher who won a World Series with the 1984 Detroit Tigers – Jeff was as much involved in baseball as he was in hockey. 

Petry wasn’t even on the radar of NHL scouts until a short time prior to his draft year. He also wasn’t on the radar of the leading NHL betting sites in terms of Norris Trophy odds at the start of this season, yet there Petry is, playing a starring role for the surprising Montreal Canadiens and hearing murmurs that he belongs in the conversation when it comes to the NHL’s best defenseman.

The Montreal rearguard leads all NHL defensemen with six goals. He’s second in points (15) and third in plus-minus (+13). 

From Prep School to Prepping For The NHL

Petry began the 2005-06 hockey season skating as a senior defenseman with St. Mary’s high school in Orchard Lake, Mich. He completed that campaign as a highly-touted NHL prospect.

“I was shocked,” Petry recalled to the Windsor Star. “It all happened so quickly.”

By November of 2005, the Des Moines Buccaneers of the USHL were courting Petry and convinced him to join their junior club. 

“He was going back for his senior year to play high school hockey and ended up in the USHL and I guess he impressed somebody,” said Dan Petry, an 18-game winner for the 1984 Tigers.

By February of 2006, Jeff was playing in the USHL’s top prospects game and come that  spring, was rated 36th among North American skaters on the NHL’s Central Scouting list.

For dad, his son’s sudden emergence was a moment of intense pride, but also somewhat befuddling.

“He made the (USHL) all-star/prospects game and that’s when the coach said he was starting to get a lot of attention from a lot of the scouts,” Dan Petry said. “Then several other people said, ‘Oh, yeah, they’re coming in.’

“Then he started showing up on those NHL scouting lists and that’s when I kind of said, ‘Oh, boy.’ And again, I don’t know anything (about hockey), so there was no pressure on him.

“I didn’t know what to tell him other than to go out and play hard.”

Jeff was selected 45th overall by the Edmonton Oilers in the 2006 NHL entry draft. After three years of NCAA hockey at Michigan State, he turned pro in 2009. One year later, Petry cracked Edmonton’s lineup. In 2014, the Oilers traded him to Montreal. 

“Jeff Petry” by Francois Lacasse is licensed under CC BY 3.0  

Choosing Hockey Over Baseball

Jeff also faced up to a difficult conversation he needed to have with his father. It had come to that point in time in his life, as it does eventually with almost all elite athletes, when they must choose which sport they intend to pursue.

Between hockey and baseball, Jeff knew which one was his favorite sport. He also knew that it wasn’t his dad’s sport.

“I always enjoyed hockey a little bit more,” Jeff admitted to “It was tough for me to make the decision.”

In essence, the choice was made for him. Jeff was given an ultimatum by his baseball coach. 

“We had a new baseball coach and he didn’t want me to miss time for hockey camps and stuff like that, so it just came to a point where I guess I had to man up and go home and tell my dad I wanted to focus on my hockey career,” Jeff recalled.

Jeff worried that he’d break his father’s heart. It turned out that he needn’t have worried at all.

“He was great,” Jeff recalled of his dad’s response during that conversation. “I should have done it a couple of years earlier. 

“He never wanted to force us into anything. I think he enjoys watching hockey because he knows nothing about it and I think that’s a little bit of the reason why I chose it, too.

“It’s kind of my own thing.”

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